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McHenry Co. hopes to close $3 mil deficit with cuts, 'belt tightening'
By Charles Keeshan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/3/2010 3:13 PM | Updated: 8/3/2010 3:20 PM

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Early projections show McHenry County facing a budget deficit of more than $3 million next year, but county officials think they can narrow the gap in time to pass a balanced 2011 spending plan. Figures presented to the county board Tuesday show expenditures reaching $85.4 million next year - about $2.3 million more than this year - while revenues are projected at only $82.4 million, a $727,000 decline from 2010.

"It's bad news at first glance, but until we get all the numbers from all the departments this is just a projection," said Ralph Sarbaugh, associate county administrator for finance.

Officials hope that through the annual budget process over the next three months, they can find ways to trim that additional $3 million. Options include cutting back on travel and training, a moratorium on hiring and promotions and limiting purchases to the bare necessities.

The county also may consider delaying costly capital projects, including postponing a planned public safety building until 2013.

"We all know that everybody has been cutting and cutting," county board Chairman Ken Koehler said. "I think we can make this budget work with a lot of belt tightening."

One option county board members did not, and likely will not, discuss is a tax increase. Likewise, the board is unlikely to consider dipping into its cash reserves - enough to sustain the county for more than six months - to fill a budget deficit.

"Our board would frown on that as an out," Sarbaugh said.

The projected deficit was one of two pieces of bad financial news board members heard Tuesday. The other is that the county currently is another $3.1 million in the hole so far this year, thanks largely to the state falling behind in income tax payments and lagging jail revenues.

Sarbaugh said he is confident the state will catch up on the nearly $1.5 million it owes the county, and jail staff is working hard to make up for the $928,000 the facility has fallen behind in projections.

"Their ability to turn things around in the second half of this year is going to go a long way in our ability to balance the budget," County Administrator Peter Austin said.